I stumbled into Brookfield Place in downtown Toronto for my first stop on a very short visit to the city. I’d found out through Couchsurfing that the World Press Photo exhibit would be there. It might seem odd that my few hours in a city that I’ve never been to was spent touring a photo exhibit. I could have stopped at the CN Tower or Rogers Centre, but where is the fun in that (I did drive past them though). I’ve always felt that in order to experience a city, you have to immerse yourself in it as much as possible.

It’s what I imagine most guidebooks are referencing when they suggest to “go off the beaten path”. (I’ve always wondered how far off the path can it really be if it’s mentioned in a book.) So how can you accomplish this? Here’s how I find out what to do in a city.

1. Couchsurfing – One of my favorite parts of the couchsurfing website is the message board. There’s a group site for just about every city and people are always discussing what’s happening. It’s where I found out about the exhibit. I use it for every city that I’m in, even the ones that I live in. When I had tickets for the Marley screening in Atlanta, that’s where I turned to give them away.

2. City PapersDC’s is actually called the city paper, but most cities have something similar. I saw one in Toronto. If I was staying longer I would have picked one up and flipped through it. There’s always great stuff to discover in there.

3. Walk - After I left the exhibit, I wandered over to the Kensington Market section of the city. I checked out the shops, had lunch at Waterfalls, a great Indian restaurant, and finished the afternoon sipping tea at Café Pamenar. It was a perfect afternoon. I had no idea what I would find there when I originally started my trek, but it turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences. The best way to find something new is to just pick an area and walk around. Try things without reading reviews and see what you come up with.

4. Coffee Shops - There’s usually a section in coffee shops where people post flyers for all different types of events. They’re usually for exhibits, documentaries and indie music shows. You know…where the cool people go… I had a chance to sift through a few at Pamenar and there were tons of great things happening in the upcoming weeks.

If you haven’t been able to tell, I really enjoyed my time in Toronto (so much that I missed my flight). And it’s all because I took the steps above to find things I’d be interested in. You don’t have to wait until you’re traveling to try this stuff. Explore where you live as well. Try something new. I’m always amazed by how little people know about where they live, especially when they live in major cities.